Corporate Grassroots

by digby

Following up on Krugman's column today and the shrieking and rending of garments by the rightwing, I think it's it's probably important to make very clear why the tea-bagger parties are not a grassroots uprising.

The right seems to want us to believe that Fox News is promoting this non-stop as a genuine news event rather than a sponsor --- despite the fact that it is an event which hasn't happened yet. They are, by definition, promoting it.

Local news organizations, which are reporting on the planning for this event either do not realize that they are being spun by a front group pretending to be a grassroots organizing campaign or they don't care. That front group is called Freedom Works, which presents itself as the conservative answer to Move On.

Here is how Move On was conceived:

The domain name was registered on September 18, 1998 by computer entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems, an entertainment software company known for the flying toaster screen saver and the online game show "You Don’t Know Jack." After selling the company in 1997, Blades and Boyd became concerned about the level of "partisan warfare in Washington" following revelations of President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. The MoveOn website was launched initially to oppose the Republican-led effort to impeach Clinton. Initially called "Censure and Move On," it invited visitors to add their names to an online petition stating that "Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country."

At the time of MoveOn's public launch on September 24, it appeared likely that its petition would be dwarfed by the effort to oust Clinton. A reporter who interviewed Blades on the day after the launch wrote, "A quick search on Yahoo turns up no sites for 'censure Clinton' but 20 sites for 'impeach Clinton,'" adding that Scott Lauf's website had already delivered 60,000 petitions to Congress. reported that Arianna Huffington, then a right-wing commentator, had collected 13,303 names on her website,, which called on Clinton to resign.

Within a week, however, support for MoveOn had grown. Blades calls herself an "accidental activist. ... We put together a one-sentence petition. ... We sent it to under a hundred of our friends and family, and within a week we had a hundred thousand people sign the petition. At that point, we thought it was going to be a flash campaign, that we would help everyone connect with leadership in all the ways we could figure out, and then get back to our regular lives. A half a million people ultimately signed and we somehow never got back to our regular lives." MoveOn also recruited 2,000 volunteers to deliver the petitions in person to members of the House of Representatives in 219 districts across America, and directed 30,000 phone calls to district offices.

Here's how it does business:

MoveOn uses e-mail as its main conduit for communicating with members, sending action alerts at least once a week.

The web site also uses multi-media, including videos, audio downloads, and images. In addition to communicating via the Internet, MoveOn advertises using traditional print and broadcast media, as well as billboards, bus signs, and bumper stickers, digital versions of which are downloadable from its web site. It also contains an area called the "Action Forum", which functions much like a traditional electronic discussion group. The Action Forums act as a grassroots organization allowing members to propose priorities and strategies.

Through this grassroots methodology, MoveOn collaborates with groups like in organizing street demonstrations, bake sales, house parties, and other opportunities for people to meet personally and act collectively in their own communities.

Some of its core principles are that it is not dependent on foundation money and that it has the ability to use 'hard money' – as opposed to grants and tax-deductible contributions – which enables them to be partisan, contribute to political campaigns, and exercise clout in the political process.

Here's how Freedom Works came to pass:

Stealing a page from's successful organizing playbook, the leaders of FreedomWorks - a complete merger of the conservative think-tanks Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America - hope to conduct massive get out the vote and political education campaigns in the swing states on behalf of President George W. Bush.

The two groups decided to merge because there was "an overlap in issues between the two organization," Shawn Small, the Director of Policy at Empower America, told me in a telephone interview. It was an opportunity to bring together Empower America, which Small characterized as a "grasstops" organization driven by such inside the beltway "superstars" as William Bennett, Vin Weber and Jean Kirkpatrick and CSE's "grassroots" following.

Will FreedomWorks be successful? Maybe, maybe not, but it is sure to be controversial with longtime Republican Party operative Matt Kibbe at the helm.

If the agenda of FreedomWorks sounds familiar, that's because it is. The organization's new website proclaims that it "will expand and broaden the national fight for lower taxes, less government, and more economic freedom."

The leaders of FreedomWorks have all been around the Beltway a number of times. Former House Majority Leader, Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey, C. Boyden Gray, onetime legal counsel to Bush's father and chairman of the Committee for Justice, an organization about to launch a campaign on behalf of Bush's right wing judicial appointees, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and failed vice-presidential candidate, Jack Kemp, will serve as the Co-Chairmen of the organization.

And here's how it operates:

FreedomWorks claims a membership of over 360,000 and a multi-tentacled legal structure that includes a 501 c(3), a 501 c(4), a 527, a federal PAC, and various state PACs. John Stauber, co-author of Banana Republicans: How The Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State, recently pointed out that that according to internal documents leaked to the Washington Post in January 2000, the bulk of Citizens for a Sound Economy's revenues ($15.5 million in 1998) came not from its members, but from contributions of $250,000 and up from large corporations, including Allied Signal, Archer Daniels Midland, DaimlerChrysler, Emerson Electric Company, Enron, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris and U.S. West (now Qwest).

And like their progenitors they get millions from the conservative foundations.

Can we all see the difference between Freedom Works and Move On? I knew that you could.

Now, none of this means that the people who show up at the rallies don't actually believe in what they're rallying for. It's primarily a team sport for them, and this is the conservative team's play. But most of them probably don't realize (and wouldn't believe if you told them) that they are rallying on behalf of a major media conglomerate and other vastly wealthy interests to support rich people and corporations at the expense of people like themselves. Of course, that is the organizing principle of the Republican Party in general, but it is spectacularly arrogant at a time like this.

If the press were to do its job, it would inform the public of this instead of regurgitating professional beltway press releases and pretending that these tea bagger parties are even coherent much less representing a legitimate grassroots anti-tax movement.

Update: Hamsher has more on this same topic.